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Octavia Hill's housing dream turns into a nightmare

Today the great and the good will unveil a memorial in Westminster Abbey to commemorate social reformer Octavia Hill, who died 100 years ago. A pioneer thinker and campaigner, she worked to promote the idea of a collective form of property ownership.

Land and buildings of special beauty, she insisted, should be held in trust, on behalf of the nation, inalienably and in perpetuity. This proposal was enshrined in the 1907 National Trust Act.

But Hill did not confine her concerns to aesthetic issues. She saw how private landowners and the demand for profit rode roughshod over places of beauty as well as the lives of millions of workers forced to live in conditions of squalor. With critic John Ruskin, Hill set up social housing schemes to provide homes for some 3,000 tenants in London.

The 20th century was to see the rise of mass municipal housing schemes which constituted an alternative to the commercial market. But today, decent social housing has virtually become a thing of the last century.

The glaring problems that Hill addressed, rather than being resolved, are worsening. The National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations providing accommodation for some five million people, reports that a major housing crisis in England and Wales is set to worsen rapidly.

One in 12 families in England is currently waiting for social housing, while homelessness has risen by 26% over the last two years. Social housing stock has plummeted over the last decades as rents and property prices continue to soar.

The cost of privately renting a home has gone up by 37% over the last five years. The result is that 417,830 families presently depend on housing benefit to help them pay private rents – an increase as the NHF points out – of 86% in only three years.

Rising housing costs have a disastrous impact on the lives of millions of people, especially young families. Incomes have not kept up with housing costs with the result that increasing numbers of people who are in employment need to claim benefits just to keep a roof over their heads.

A market analysis by Oxford Economics shows that social and public house building is dwarfed by the commercial market: 72,876 new homes were built by the private sector, 43,164 by housing associations and a mere 1,830 by local authorities in 2011-12.

The future is equally gloomy. House prices and rents are forecast to show steep increases. Private rents – already unaffordable for many – could be some 27% higher by 2017.

Perhaps the most shocking reality is the contrast between house prices, rents  and earnings. London heads the list. The average house price in London in 2011 was a staggering £421,395. For a 75% mortgage you would need an income of £90,299 per year plus a substantial deposit. Not too surprisingly, the lowest house prices are in the North-east – one of the most deprived, high unemployment areas of England.

Amongst other proposals, the NHF calls for the government to release more public land for building by housing associations and to invest in more social housing.

But, is building on brownfield sites what is likely to be low quality housing while huge numbers of properties stand vacant or need upgrading, really the way to go?  Such measures can only be sticking plaster on a huge festering wound. A revolutionary housing policy is needed to end the recurring misery of homelessness, overcrowding, soaring rents and exploitative landlords.

The right to affordable housing must be worked for side by side with, as Octavia Hill foresaw, the protection of open spaces for the appreciation of all. The fight for a social right to decent housing will be central to the creation of an Agreement of the People, which will begin in London on November 17.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
22 October 2012

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Roger Alexander says:

417,830 families are NOT receiving housing benefits .... landlords are receiving this money from the government. They have not earned this money they get it from money lending.


Laurence Keeley says:

HOUSING ALL SO CARE, EMPLOYMENT AND PENSION CRISES Recent headlines, 4 million think they will never afford a house, Nation of mortgage slaves, cheap homes crisis, risking health to pay mortgage, one million pensioners suffer alone, generation driven to drink to fill lonely days in retirement. 10,000 oap`s trapped in unfit care homes, every 59 seconds in uk one person is declared insolvent.

Family breakdown is often caused by money problems, resulting in depression leading to mental health issues, loneliness and isolation can be the beginning of dementia, there are also many people retiring who don’t have the financial means of keeping themselves in good health and well-being. The answer would be not to have a market system where the higher rate becomes the going rate.

Now we have seen the achievements of the Olympics’ and the way it can unite the people, this is an opportunity to start a campaign to protect our open space and have a new way of housing ourselves. We should stop developers turning up and saying` we want to build here you try and stop us. May be a community farm in some areas could be part of the scheme, a different layout and design is needed which would allow older people to move into and free up other houses. I believe a new community living building could break the cycle of bad behaviour. See designs for more insight.

It has been reported that 4 of every ten new houses will be occupied by immigrants, should we not build some houses in Eastern Europe and make those countries better so they don’t want to leave their home land? May be we should build 40% of the proposed houses in Eastern Europe and not in the UK.

I recall a lady speaking of the lack of care with her husband’s dementia; we should be looking at the Local Core Strategy’s that are now being decided over the next twenty year plan. A development area could be decided by each parish or town council, where a housing complex could be built , and the local folk who have health problems that fine it difficult to live in their house- be it a single person or a couple -could move into, people could help look after each other with in the complex, also some younger care workers could live on site to be on call, At the moment , we have carers driving all over the place , attending clients for a few minutes a time The people who need the care are then let alone for several hours where a number of problems can arise.

It has been said we should build on Brown field sites, many seem to go along with this, but often brown field sites are closed down industrial areas, we should re-establish these areas for industry, Instead of importing so much, and create employment at home.

We should not be building on Grade one or two agricultural land, there are areas that could be used of less productive land, but developers rather go where they can make most money.

It is immoral that land can go from £5,000 to £500,000, per acre when someone gets planning permission to build houses, then the eventual house purchaser borrows that money and spends most of their live paying it off, just because one land owner and one developer can say this is the going rate and you must pay it! The people should be invited , to say where new homes should be built, (one has to accept we must have them with the population increase) a land community trust would be formed to oversee the project, they would offer the land owners £1,000 an acre annual rent for the land, or have a fifty year lease, invite a developer to build the homes for the cost of doing the job, this would bring homes for the people at about £85,000 each, plus any infrastructure levy, they could be bought at this price, but would not be allowed to sell them on, only back to the trust, rents could be £350 per month, with life time tenancies’, in the event the land owner would not except the rental offered the land would be compulsory purchased at agricultural value. We should build houses on steel frames off ground and use wooden cladding and have wool for insulation, stop dredging the sea beds for shingle for building. This would help the Steel industry and the environment by growing more trees, plus have a market for our wool industry.

A family pension fund could be set up on a national or local bases, to allow people to pay into this fund; with a new affordable housing scheme one would be able to do this, the fund could pay interest of around 6%, but one would not be able to draw on the capital until one has retired any surplus capital could be passed on the other elected family members once one passes on. The income generated would be used to build affordable care homes, under the rented land scheme.

Designs are needed to allow open space for walks, allotments, sports facilities, and general wellbeing; in some cases a community farm could be formed. There is a need for older people’s accommodation to free up homes that have single occupancy; this would apply in towns and villages.

Under the above plan, we could have flexible retiring age, and mothers would not have to work, that’s not to say mothers shouldn’t work, but they shouldn’t have to.

Accommodation would be better provided with a design for single mothers (for whatever reason they are alone,) and retired people, isolation and being alone can cause more problems, a problem shared can be a problem halved. There are two things we need has human beings, that’s the company of others and our own space, on new estates we one is overcrowded yet isolated We are not taking the advantage of our technology; every industry has reduced the need for Labour.

Three million unemployed could be considered an achievement, we should not have three million doing nothing while others keep them unemployed, we should have more job sharing especially for the over 55s, but you cannot have more part time jobs on a market economy where the higher rate becomes the going rate that everyone else has to follow. We could of course return to cutting the road side hedges with a swop and clean out the ditches with a shovel, milk the cows by hand and deliverer the milk with a pair of yokes, we remember bus conductors and telephonist that plugged us in. Capitalism has we know it allows too many to fall off. But we really need to look at the future for the sake of younger members of society. For those who bought a house in the Sixties, they can sell and move round, but if you are 19, what hope do you have? Everyone needs a purpose, can growth go on? Is Growth destroying the Planet?

We should take housing benefit out of the private sector from the next time one moves, the money saved would build the affordable house we need, (however, we need to build the homes for the people to move into,) Then the real market rent would be established, similarly with care with care home cost, the money sent does not go on care, it goes to a few private people or some large company’s making money. County Councils close their care homes as the Government cut their funding, then the state pay out more on private care fees.

The Community Trust Model would benefit the three million people who are on the waiting list .Building homes in this way that cannot be sold on the market would create employment; and older folk would have a better retirement.

It has been said that social housing causes problem people, when people had the right to buy, those who could afford the rent could afford to buy, and unfortunately we are left with the less well off in the social rented sector which is no fault of their own. It is not to affordable housing that is causing the problems but the market housing that’s the real issue. Market housing is causing debt and despair. Building houses and calling it growth is a recipe for disaster. If one looks at the problems in Ireland, Spain and America its building too many houses that is the root of the problem.

While some of the above would be outside the Local Council, May I recommend this is put to the government for consideration. Also put this to a referendum with in the Localism Act to take place next May at County Council Elections.

We should stop building social housing, stop building market housing, we just need proper housing?
Get in touch, e-mail lvkeeley22@homecall.co.uk


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